Overbearing interference from channel executives is alienating creative professionals in the television industry, according to comedy guru Armando Iannucci. Speaking after a BAFTA lecture that he delivered this week, Iannucci revealed that he and actor Steve Coogan had been compelled to take their Alan Partridge character away from the BBC to a new berth at Sky because of stipulations related to script content and scheduling.
Iannucci’s comments reflect the broad thrust of his argument during the lecture, entitled Fight, Fight, Fight, in which he made a plea for a more aggressive and independent streak of creativity in British television. In his view, the most bureaucratic forms of channel management tend to relegate the input of creative talents and miss the mark of audience appetites.
“Too often,” he said, “the commissioning executive [has been] the chief creative officer behind any show, the one coming up with the title, insisting on the key cast, determining the format, imposing hard-line notes on the script, influencing the edit … Commissioners and controllers say there’s too much single-camera comedy on these days and they want some more studio audience sitcoms. And then along comes Gavin and Stacey, which proves the audience sitcom is dead, so we don’t need any more, thanks. And then along comes Miranda and the appeal goes out once more for audience sitcoms just like that. And then along comes The Inbetweeners.”
The writer-producer behind The Thick of It said that trends seem to go in cycles of four years. “And yet,” he added, “controllers and commissioners seem to come and go every two years, so the cycle gets disrupted by another cycle inside the bigger cycle, until no one knows what we’re meant to be making and everyone is just sick.”
Iannucci argued that the “dysfunctional” and pressurised nature of the commissioning executive’s job “inevitably pushes them into wanting final say on all aspects of the programme. The more they have their say, however, the less say there is from the creative team.”
Effective commissioners, he stressed, “don’t stare down at what’s on their desks, but look up and see what talent is there in the room and how it can be stretched and challenged and inspired” to make the best programming. “Look at the Olympic opening ceremony,” he said. “There was the commission, ‘let Britain show the rest of the world what it is now,’ and it was entrusted to one man, Danny Boyle, to feel free to flesh it out. It was quirky, entertaining, and insightful. It didn’t please everyone. My favourite exchange was from the Tory MP Aidan Burley who tweeted it was ‘multi-cultural crap’ and a reply from @paulsinha who tweeted back, ‘If you think the ceremony is multi-cultural, wait till you see the sport.’”
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